Posted: Monday, April 21, 2014 6:00 am
I opened a note card from a favorite young cousin and was startled and pleased by what she had written: “I love you.” She brought joy to my heart.
I didn’t expect it, and there was no apparent reason for her gesture. What a delightful surprise!
So often those of us who are older worry about the younger generation. Will they carry on the traditions? Will they honor family? Will they love and honor God?
This young woman is a terrific athlete, an excellent student and a devoted Christian.
What makes it so hard for us to tell those around us how much we care for them?
They make our lives worth living and yet we remain silent. We tell ourselves that we will call or write them a note.
Yet time slips by and the kind words go unspoken and the notes never get written.
Good intentions get swallowed up by the ordinary chores of living. Days turn into weeks, weeks turn into years. Suddenly, the opportunity to brighten a life is gone. We are left with regrets about what we felt but left unsaid.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Two weeks ago, I answered a telephone call from my friend, Chuck. He called me to say goodbye and let me know how much he valued our friendship. He was suffering from terminal cancer.
As hard as the call was to receive, it spoke volumes about my friend. Now he is gone but what a gift he gave me.
A few years ago, I started writing a weekly blog titled, “Thankful Thursday.” Each Thursday, I chose a person who had contributed to my life and wrote my blog about her or him.
The most surprising thing about the blog was the responses I received: “How did you know how badly I needed this?” “How did you know that I was having a terrible day?”
How did I know? It is simple: Everyone needs encouragement and a word of kindness.
Even Jesus expressed a similar longing. After he healed the 10 lepers, only one returned to thank him. Jesus asked, “Weren’t all 10 healed? Where are the other nine?” (Luke 17:17)
One Sunday, I visited Providence Baptist Church in Charleston, S.C., and the pastor Don Flowers preached on this topic.
He stationed nine pretenders in the congregation. Each man represented a missing leper who was healed.
Each in turn rose and gave his excuse for not returning to thank Jesus, but that is what they were – excuses.
Each year during the celebration of “Say Something Nice Sunday,” the first Sunday in June, as worshipers leave First Baptist Church of Charleston, he or she is given a daisy to give to a stranger along with a kind word.
People come back with amazing stories of gratitude from those who received the daises. Daisies are symbols of friendship.
It is a simple, inexpensive gesture, but the results are tremendous. Giving the daisy makes it easier for those who otherwise might not speak to a stranger.
Paying compliments or saying encouraging words does not come easily for many people. They did not grow up around role models who said encouraging things.
Some grew up in homes where words were only used to scold or punish. Others grew up in silent homes.
Others are suspicious that there is a hidden agenda behind the compliments.
The easiest way to overcome this reluctance to say kind things is to keep your compliments simple. Don’t strive to be unique.
Jesus gave us a great encouragement in saying, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:1).
We can embody this truth through simple words of affirmation or greeting: “Thank you for helping me.” “Your sermon this morning was very helpful.” “Good morning. I’m glad to see you.”
Always be sincere with your compliments. We are drawn to those who are authentic. We are all drawn to people we can trust.
Archive for category Articles
Posted: Friday, March 28, 2014 6:12 am ethicsdaily.com
Pity the elusive mouse who must struggle to disconnect himself in the minds of youthful humans from the ubiquitous, plasticized keyboard kind.
Does anyone any longer recognize the fundamental literary distinction between Walt’s beloved “Mickey” and some cordless, unconnected robot rodent? What have we done with our words? Rats!
Shame on the unwashed who thoughtlessly seem unable to differentiate the dissimilarity in essence that divides a computer keyboard and one played upon powerfully by Liberace or pounded upon forcefully by the fiery Jerry Lee Lewis.
Oh, how far has the never very noble Spam now fallen from its wartime usage as a marker for government-produced, cheap mixed meat to its contemporary reference to the unwanted and quickly-consigned-to-electronic-hell of today’s easy come, easy go communication.
And what has become of the serious obligation of equally serious deletion? Where is today’s cutting room floor?
Those who vociferously bemoan the disastrous decline in what was once considered polite, civil discourse might well spend a few well-chosen words of grief over the corruption of common communication.
In addition to the sharp descent of civil conversation in the public electronic square, is it grammatically correct always, insistently and increasingly to be angry?
“O, brother, where art thou?” Where have all the blessed beatitudes gone, “long time passing”? Blessed are those who need not place “LOL” after their messages to communicate their humorous intentions.
Blessed is he or she whose written words can stand the light of clever inquisition without a preemptive smiley face.
How sideways have become our smirking smiles, how crooked our occasional grinning communication.
Those that live by spell-check shall face an equal and equivalent death.
How curious has the malfeasance of our modern speech construction become. How “wearifying” the written art is fast de-evolving.
Perhaps nowhere is this language loss more obvious that the steep degradation of the treasured old-English word, “friend.”
“There is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother,” it was once said and believed, in King James English; but modern friends seem to have little elasticity and even less “stickability.”
To be a Facebook kind of friend is unlike any previous species of genuine friendship and surely bears no resemblance to the Quaker kind. A true friend does not ask to be liked.
If it is sadly true that one can be “unfriended” and if friendship may indeed be a verb, isn’t it also true that authentic friendships are rarely so numerous as our electronic ones.
Real friends neither brag about their number nor boast of their political or ideological inclinations nor ruthlessly exclude those with whom they might potentially disagree.
Neither do they post only highly idealized or PhotoShopped versions of themselves solely for other so-called friends or groupies to admire.
It is actually rare for authentic friends to complain publicly to the unfriendly world of sleeplessness or send out detailed reports of intimate toilet habits to be shared with a host of so-called friends and many other unsuspecting passers-by.
If the tin-alley wordsmith once suggested of friendship that “it’s the perfect blend-ship,” there seems less and less to blend, so little longing for harmony.
Khalil Gibran, after all, said, “Let there be spaces in your togetherness.” But, in our days, we seek uniformity of thinking and conformity of doing from our erstwhile friends.
What thinkest thou? In our speech and written communication, can we be no more precise and selective than this? Can we not observe some boundaries?
Can we forego some less important things, in order to experience genuine communication with others? Can we, at least, think as much as we type?
When our words cannot be more properly managed, what hope is there for our ways?
|Language Provides Lens for Social AnalysisMike Massar
Posted: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 4:37 am
I attended the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts several years ago, and the professor of my screenplay-writing class took pains to warn me about it ahead of time.
Knowing that I was a minister attending the course to study the comparisons between writing sermons and screenplays, she said to me, “Mike, in this seminar there will be a lot of scenes written and read that have profanity in them. I hope you won’t be too offended.”
I responded that I was a guest at the film school, and I fully understood the need for freedom of expression.
I also mentioned that I worked my way through college in the oil field and so had not led a sheltered, ivory-tower existence.
I was reminded of that experience last weekend when I went to see Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts in “August: Osage County.”
I had read several of the movie’s reviews and thought I was somewhat prepared for the sad story line. The truth is, I was not.
The movie is one of the most depressing movies I have ever seen. And what made it even worse was the language employed.
There was hardly a conversation that wasn’t laced with some of the most vulgar profanity you’ve heard anywhere.
I am certainly no prude when it comes to profanity, but I was taken aback by the crudeness of the dialogue. Over the weekend, I was haunted by what this has to say about our society these days.
As I reflected on the film, I remembered an article that David Brooks wrote in The New York Times last May, noting how language is changing and what that seems to say about us.
Brooks said that a number of recent studies have been conducted based on a Google database of 5.2 million books published between 1500 and 2008.
The studies reveal that in the last half-century, individualistic words have been much more prevalent than words connected with community.
For example, words and phrases like “personalized,” “self,” “unique” and “I can do it myself” were used more frequently than words and phrases like “community,” “share,” “united,” “band together” and “common good.”
Brooks also noted a study where researchers found that words and phrases associated with moral excellence were on the decline.
“Virtue,” “decency,” “honesty,” patience,” “compassion,” “faith,” “humbleness” and “prudence” have all declined in use, along with words of gratitude, such as “thankfulness” and “appreciation.”
In concluding the article, Brooks said, “Evidence from crude data sets like these are prone to confirmation bias. People see patterns they already believe in. Maybe I’ve done that here. But these gradual shifts in language reflect tectonic shifts in culture. We write less about community bonds and obligations because they’re less central to our lives.”
Brooks’ insights, coupled with my movie experience, have left me a bit unsettled.
What does our language say about us? And, in thinking about the church, what does it have to say about our faith?
Why have words and phrases like “surrender,” “confess,” “reverence,” “take up your cross” and others diminished in the expressions of our faith?
I’m not sure, but I think I’m going to start paying closer attention to the language I use and what it might be saying about me and my faith. I hope you’ll join me.